Today was an exceptional day to be a runner (when isn’t it?)! I’m still buzzing from the excitement of being in the mix of the Aspen Backcountry Marathon. Although I didn’t officially run the race, I did run about 8 miles along the course, taking pictures, cheering on the racers and acting as an impromptu support crew at times.
The Aspen Backcountry Marathon is coined as “one of the most challenging and scenic marathons you’ll ever run,” with lots of ups and downs, spectacular views, and high altitude to kick your butt.
The first part of the course goes straight up Smuggler Mountain, the old silver mining road I ran a couple days ago and shared with you (click HERE if you missed it).
I was excited that this race happened to coincide with my visit to Aspen, and even more excited that my Santa Barbara friend, Patty Bryant, was running it. Yet another “small world” moment to enjoy.
After running/hiking up Aspen Mountain yesterday (you can read it about HERE if you missed it) and also running two days in a row prior to that, my legs were a little tired when I rolled out of bed. It made me fully appreciate what all these runners were about to tackle today.
The morning was spectacular here once again, and since logistics were tricky with my family and one car, I decided to run from our hotel at Buttermilk Mountain to meet Patty at mile 18, at the bottom of Cemetery Lane, just as she would be coming down from Sunnyside Trail, a fairly tricky trail with a lot of exposure.
On the way, I passed several of the frontrunners and took pictures and cheered them on. I’m sure they were wondering who this one-woman cheering brigade was (read: lunatic). I can’t help myself though; there’s nothing more inspiring than seeing runners in their element, pushing themselves beyond their comfort zones, digging deep and still managing a smile as they pass by.
It was already hot by the time I started down Cemetery Lane. The runners had been going for 3 1/2 hours and were making their way from the aid station at the bottom on the Rio Grande Trail, up the concrete bike path toward the golf course.
On the way down, I passed several runners and cheered for them wildly. When two women approached me, one said, “Come on, run up the hill with us.” When I replied that I was heading down to meet my friend, this charismatic Spaniard, whose name I later found out was Laura Buitron, was one determined chiquita. “Come on, we need you to get us up this hill,” she said. “We’re going to use the energy in your legs to carry us up.” What could I do but laugh and say, “Of course. Let’s go!”
What a privilege it was to be able to do this, and to be part of this larger running community. I didn’t know Laura when she asked me to run with her, but I felt a kinship to her and appreciated her effort and enthusiasm. Once I got her and the other young women to the top of the hill, I turned back around to try to find Patty. I knew her approximate mile time and only had to wait about ten minutes before I spotted her running down Sunnyside Trail.
Seeing the surprise and delight on Patty’s face made my entire morning. She didn’t know I was going to be at this spot, but I chose it because I knew Cemetery Lane would not be the most inspiring part of the course.
You would never have known that Patty had just run 18 miles on some really tough trails on a hot morning. She was all smiles and her chirpy personality and chirpy yellow shirt lit up the aid station as she refueled before we ran up the hill together. She even asked if somebody could take our picture. Really? In the middle of a race?
In no time we reached the top of the hill as she chatted and laughed the whole way. I thought I was supposed to be the one entertaining and distracting her during this part of the course, but she was the one doing all the work. Her joy of running is irrepressible.
As she turned right to head around the golf course, then up Buttermilk Mountain, I went straight and told her I’d meet her near the Chapel around mile 24 so I could run the final couple miles with her. I ran through the Marolt Open Space, past the Chapel then on toward Tiehack. All along the way, I photographed and cheered for runners making their way toward the end of this grueling race. The sun was beating down and the altitude was pressing hard on their lungs and legs.
As I snapped a photo of one runner, he told me somebody right behind him was suffering from dehydration and asked if I could go help him. When I found the runner sitting on the ground, arms and head on his knees, I offered him some of my Tailwind, but it turned out he wasn’t battling dehydration, but rather trying to calm his irregular heartbeat. Scary.
We talked for a bit, and he told me he was from Seattle and had experienced this once or twice before during races. After accessing the situation and regrouping for a bit, he slowly stood up and said he was beginning to feel a little better. “I just want somebody to walk with me,” he said, and of course, I was more than happy. After walking about a half-mile, he said, “I think I better go finish this thing.” Then off he went and back I went toward Tiehack to find Patty.
On the way, my new friend, Laura, came upon me again, and once again, I took her picture, cheered for her and ran with her a bit. Her firecracker personality and her mental toughness shone through as she kept looking back to see if any competitors were coming up behind her.
And then I spotted Patty’s bright yellow Santa Barbara Running shirt blazing along the trail in the distance. She looked strong as ever, but was happy to have a friend to get her to the end. I was relieved when she said she didn’t want to talk because I was already huffing and puffing. We ran in sync though, with Patty leading the way. It was so much fun to run with her on this beautiful course and experience the energy of this race.
As we reached town, I knew Patty had one more little uphill jaunt on Little Cloud Trail before coming across the finish line, and since I wanted to photograph her finish, I parted ways and hightailed it straight down Hopkins Avenue. I stopped briefly when I bumped into one of my old neighbors who was out mowing his front lawn (gotta love small towns), then picked up the pace so I wouldn’t miss her.
I made it just in time to capture Patty’s jubilation. She had a lot to celebrate—taking 1st place in her age group and taking 17 minutes of her previous best effort. Her time was 5:29:56! Way to go Patty!
Besides a little sweat on her face, you never would have known that this rock star had just run a marathon. I guess that’s because this was really just a training run for her next race, the Hardrock 100 in Silverton, CO on July 10th. I have no doubt she is going to crush that race as well.
I only ran 8 miles today on the easiest parts of this course and I felt like I had run a half marathon. Kudos to Patty, and all the other runners who finished this awesome race. It was fun to drink up all the energy, and daydream about someday taking on this course myself. And congrats to my new friend, Laura, who also took 1st in her age group! Her time was 5:01:32.
As a side note, I read in the paper the following day that the lead runners encountered a bear and her cubs at the top of Smuggler Mt. during the race. Very cool, but yikes! Fortunately, they were fast and agile enough not to get mama bear riled up. Gotta love a backcountry marathon.
Stay tuned for my next adventures, which have me cross-training in some of the most pristine areas you’ll ever find.
Until then…Happy Trails!
PS:Note: This race took place on June 27th. I’m just now finding time to share this post with you.
Also, if you missed any of my other Runcation posts, you can read them here:
Day One: Palm Springs North Lykken Trail
Day Two: Palm Springs South Lykken Trail
Day Three and Four: Grand Canyon Bright Angel Trail
Day Five: Arches National Park-Delicate Arch Trail
Day Six and Seven: Aspen’s Rio Grande Trail
Day Eight: Aspen’s Smuggler Mountain
Day Nine: Aspen Mountain